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Nutrition: From deficiency to excess

The average lifespan of our companion animals is increasing, but for how long? Currently a dog’s life span averages 10 to 12 years, while a cat can live for 12 to 18 years. Enhanced nutrition is a key contributor to longer, higher-quality lives for our pets. Both our understanding of proper nutritional needs and the consistency and availability of quality ingredients has led to improvements.

Nutritional deficiencies
Historically, health problems associated with nutrition have been a result of deficiencies. For example, a cat fed a diet lacking the essential amino acid taurine was likely to develop heart disease and sometimes blindness. Dogs who did not receive adequate bioavailable calcium during growth and development suffered from bone growth deformities.

Nutritional excess
Fast forward our timeline to modern day, and the vast majority of disease for companion animals in the United States caused by inappropriate diet is a result of excess, not deficiency. Excess can come in many forms. A single ingredient or nutrient may be disproportionate to the entire daily ration. A diet high in sodium fed over time can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease. A diet high in magnesium or phosphorous may contribute to the formation of bladder or kidney stones. Too much fat leads to liver congestion and pancreatic problems.

On the other end of the spectrum, the concern with some diets isn’t limited to a single ingredient. Certain diets contain too many calories for the caloric demand of the individual pet, resulting in obesity. Unfortunately, an estimated 54 percent of our canine and feline companions are overweight, while approximately 22 percent of those are clinically obese.

Nutritional excess = obesity
Obesity leads to many health problems and diseases. Similar to humans with excess weight, pets can suffer from arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and even shorter lifetimes. This means that the increased lifespan for our companion animals we have come to enjoy is at risk. With disease incidence on the rise, lifespans are sure to shorten.

To learn more about proper nutrition and how to determine an ideal body score, prevent obesity, and reduce the chance of nutritionally caused diseases, check out the American Animal Hospital Association’s Nutritional Assessment Guidelines highlights.


Deanne Bonner, RVT, CVPM, has worked in the veterinary profession since 1985. She enjoys working for the American Animal Hospital Association as a veterinary practice consultant. Deanne is passionate about improving client communication so pet owners can make educated health care choices and be advocates for their companion animals. 

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